Meet the Ulster stunner who gave up opera to pursue country dream
Country’s answer to Katherine Jenkins is Ballinderry beauty Cliona Hagan.
The 26-year-old has been a child star, an opera singer and a secondary school music teacher.
But she swapped opera for country last year and plans to take Ireland by storm.
Cliona has already notched up an Irish number one with Michael English and was on stage last week with Sunday World columnist Nathan Carter and Derek Ryan.
Now she’s ready to go solo with a debut album, a new single and a craving for country that just won’t quit.
Cliona is no stranger to the stage with a singing career that started at nine on the George Jones radio show and took her on to RTE’s Late Late Toy Show and the All Ireland Talent Show.
The Tyrone woman veered into opera at university but last year she decided it was time to move on.
“I really did enjoy singing opera music and it’s vocally very demanding,” says Cliona.
“It helped me regarding breathing techniques but I felt I didn’t know what I was singing because half the time it’s in a different language.
“People just think one morning I woke up and decided to do country music but I’ve always listened to Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, Daniel O’Donnell, Philomena, and Nathan and Lisa McHugh so I just thought I’d love to give country singing a go.”
The Irish country scene is already rewarding her enthusiasm with endorsements from its biggest stars.
Biggest fan: Cliona with country legend Daniel O'Donnell
“They have been saying to me, ‘Cliona you have a great voice’, which means the world to me so I’m more than happy that they’re giving me a chance,” says the singer.
And Cliona has embraced the spirit of the music with tracks like We’re All Going to Die Some Day, one of three she released on her own before signing with Sharp Music in Dungannon.
“It was supposed to be a fun little song.
“There are some beautiful love songs and there are songs about my man cheating on me and girl power. I think most country songs are relatable. You can just really get into the music.”
Cliona admits it was a brave step to give up the security of teaching to strike out on her own, but it was a move she had to make.
She taught music in Edinburgh and Lurgan before deciding to take her chances on a new career.
“I taught for two years and I did like teaching but I love music and love performing. I didn’t want to be looking back in ten years’ time saying ‘why didn’t you at least give it a go’. Performing is where my heart lies.”
The TV experiences were invaluable and she’s put it to good use with months of touring with her band before the album launch.
“You are constantly learning all the time when you are on that TV stage. They are such big productions to be asked on and I was delighted when I came fourth on the All Ireland Talent Show. I would have loved to have won but I was happy with the experience. You can’t buy that, just like every night I when get up on stage.”
Cliona released her debut single, a cover of Patty Loveless song Straight to You, on Friday after months of working on her first album of the same name.
She’s already recorded a video for the song filmed in KBL Mill in Ballyclare, and says she can’t wait for the public’s reaction.
“As soon as I heard Straight to You I fell in love with it. I thought I have to try this and make it my own. I’ve speeded it up and the jivers will love it. I spent three or four months trying songs out that I thought would have suited me, and other songs where I thought ‘I’ll just try it’ and they turned out to be the ones I put on the album.
“I’m so excited for everyone to hear them. I’m trying to appeal to young and old.” Cliona wants to be a long player on the Irish country scene which has gone through a resurgence thanks to younger artists.
She believes it’s the social side of country dances which has helped push its profile and the singer plans to be there to enjoy it.
“I really want to push myself and hope that people are enjoying my music.
“I’ve got a fantastic reaction so far. I hope I keep doing well and I want to thank everybody for the support.
“I want to reach for the stars,” she says.
- Cliona’s album Straight to You is available from Sharp Music and all music outlets from October 28